We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Absolutely Delicious All-Butter Pie Crust (Gluten-Free and Gum-Free)

by Michelle

After weeks of testing various ingredients, this tender, flaky, tasty, gluten-free, gum-free dough
(made with white chia seeds and almond flour), was declared the Grand Champion. 

   During the doldrums of summer, when it is just too hot under the desert sun to go outside and play, I decided to finally get a handle on gluten-free pie dough. I've had too many misses in my kitchen when gluten-free pie dough is part of the equation. Since the calendar rolled over to July, we're officially half way through year, which means the holidays will be here before we know it, and along with the arrival of Thanksgiving and Christmas, my annual baking tradition will officially launch. But, summer is a time for baking, too. I love to make hand pies, crostatas, tarts and quiches. All these classic savory and sweet items justifiably need an excellent pastry crust to elevate these recipes to all-star status in your repertoire of good eats.
   Over the years I've been disappointed with the various gluten-free pie doughs that I've made. My fall back desserts have become sweets that don't require a crust, such as homemade ice cream (such as Lemon, Fresh Peach with Amaretto Affagto, and trusty Soft Serve-Style Chocolate and Vanilla), Chocolate and Vanilla Puddings, Angel Food CakeDelectable Lemon Cake, and dazzling Triple Chocolate Meringue Cookies. All the aforementioned desserts are outrageously good and I will make them time and time again until my ashes are offered up to the wind. That being said, there are times when pie is irrevocably what everyone wants, so pie it is, with no excuses for the pastry encasing the grand dessert.

I made blueberry hand pies to test multiple versions of gluten-free pie dough.
Dough #3, at the top, was declared the winner by the judges. 
   Inspired by The Bojon Gourmet to make Gluten-Free All-Butter Pie Dough, one Saturday afternoon I happily proceeded forward with making her recipe, successfully avoiding the drudgery of cleaning my house. And, since I like to tinker in the kitchen, I made three variations of her recipe and blind tested the results, asking my husband and daughter to declare the winner. What started me down the multiple variations path is that I could not locally source millet flour or white chia seeds. Nor could I find the European butters, Straus and Plugra that she highly recommended. Undaunted by making minor substitutions, I forged ahead into pastry land.
   In addition to the substitutions, I added one ingredient to the dough which was ultimately declared the winner by my judging panel. You might ask, what is the special ingredient? The answer—baking powder. My sister, Linda and I always add it to our regular wheat-based all-butter pie crust. And though the difference was subtle, "dough #3" was visually more appealing and tasted a bit lighter.
   Even though we had a winner, I would have liked a bit more browning ability on the pastry for the hand pies that I baked. I thought about how Linda solved this issue with her winner of a fried chicken recipe by adding almond flour, which browns quite nicely. I found that when using almond flour, less water was needed to bind the dough and the finely ground nuts did indeed help the dough turn a lovely golden color.
    I should also note that my first batches of dough I used ground black chia seeds. I finally found white chia seeds, and do prefer them, for the visual appeal, although the black chia seeds leant a whole grain appearance to the dough, which I did not find displeasing. I did try substituting psyllium husk (the new darling of the gluten-free bread baking world) for the chia seeds in one iteration, but everyone preferred the dough made with nutrient-rich chia. For more information about using chia and psyllium husk as a replacement for xanthan and guar gum, read this article. I also tried subbing cream cheese for part of the butter, but again the all-butter pie crust was everyone's favorite.

From this...
...to this: a glorious apple pie featuring a gluten-free crust and gluten-free streusel.
   Linda and I typically use a food processor to make pie dough, but I decided to try a new method that I've read about with interest, and which Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet prefers. In France, a key technique called fraisage, calls for smearing portions of the dough against the counter with the palm of your hand. Then the dough is gathered together, with the aid of a bench scraper, flattened into a disc, wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the refrigerator until it is cold enough to roll out—about an hour.
   The final step is to then employ a procedure used to make puff pastry, which is to roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, fold into thirds (like folding a letter), and then lightly fold into thirds again. At this point, the dough is wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the fridge overnight. The next morning, the dough is rolled and cut as desired for a pie, turnovers or tart shells, depending upon the end game.
   The rolled and cut or shaped dough is refrigerated once again—up to two days— until ready to bake. If you are making a pie, transfer the rolled dough to a glass or metal pie plate and flute the edges. Refrigerate the dough for 20 minutes, and then freeze for at least 20 minutes (until frozen), or up to a couple months. Then, it is best to parbake the crust from the frozen state before continuing on with the final preparation.

Absolutely Delicious All-Butter Pie Crust (Gluten-Free Gum-Free)

Butter for pie dough needs to be sliced thin and very cold, but not frozen. 
Ingredients (for measuring accuracy use a scale for the flours and starches):
about 1/3 cup to 1/2 cup ice water (from 1 cup ice cubes filled with cool water)
80g or 1/2 cup sweet white rice flour (Mochiko)
35g or 1/4 cup+2 Tbsps gluten-free oat flour
35g or 1/4 cup all-purpose gluten-free flour, such as Jeanne's, -OR- 1/4 cup (35g) millet flour,
   -OR- 1/4 cup +1 Tbsp (35g) almond flour
30g or 1/4 cup cornstarch
15g or 2 Tbsps tapioca starch or tapioca flour
15g or 2 Tbsps finely ground white chia seeds*
1 tsp granulated sugar (for savory recipes) or 1 Tbsp (for sweet recipes)
1 Tbsp fresh minced herbs, or 1 to 2 tsps dried herbs or spice, optional (for a savory filling)
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp fine sea salt  (omit if using salted butter)
8 Tbsps (119g) cold, unsalted butter (preferably European-style), cut into 1/4-inch slices
1 tsp apple cider vinegar

*At my local store, white chia and black chia sit side-by-side on the shelf. If you cannot find white chia, black chia seeds taste the same, but will lend a whole grain appearance to the dough. The chia seeds cannot be ommited as they act as a binder for the dough. My old coffee grinder did the trick for grinding the chia seeds.

I returned to lining the work surface with plastic wrap after working with Dough #1.
If the dough cracks, wait a couple of minutes, pinch the dough together and roll again.
Special Equipment:
pastry cutter
bench scraper
rubber spatula
rolling pin
plastic wrap or parchment paper, plus waxed paper
pie weights

1 9-inch pie crust
3 7-inch pie crusts
6 4.25-inch pie crusts
2 7-inch pie crusts, plus 4 4.25-inch pie crusts

It only takes about 2 minutes to cut the butter into the flour using a handy pastry cutter.
1. In a medium bowl, mix all the dry ingredients together. Stir with a whisk to break up any lumps from the oat flour and ground chia seeds.
2. With a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until the butter is in coarse crumbles, about the size of peas and pinto beans.

3. The amount of water needed to hold the dough together will vary depending upon the weather (humidity) and the overall dryness of the ingredients, so it is best to add 1 tablespoon of ice cold water at a time until the dough comes together. You'll need more water on cold days and less water on hot days. You'll also need less water if you used almond flour in the mix. You've added enough water when the dough can be gathered into a ball.

I accidentally added too much water to the almond flour mixture, but decided to fraisage anyway.
The dough, despite being overly wet, turned out great.
Employ a bench scraper to help form the smeared dough into a ball,
then flatten into a disc with the aid of plastic wrap.
4. Place the dough on a counter, and using the heal of your hand, smear the dough, about 1/4 cup at a time, across the work surface. Using a bench scraper, once again gather the dough into a ball. Transfer the dough to a large piece of plastic wrap. Cover with an additional piece of plastic wrap and flatten the dough into a disc. Refrigerate the dough for a minimum of one hour. After an hour, the dough is ready to use in accordance with your recipe. You can also choose to do the next step, to ensure a flakier crust.

Roll the dough, then fold into thirds (like folding a letter), with the aid of plastic wrap. 
Lightly fold the dough once again into thirds and then let rest, covered, in the fridge until cold.
5. The optional next step is to employ a procedure used to make puff pastry, which is to roll out the dough to about 1/4-inch thickness, fold into thirds (like folding a letter), and then lightly fold into thirds again. At this point, the dough is wrapped in plastic wrap and left to rest in the fridge for one hour or overnight. What I like to do is let it rest for 60 to 90 minutes, then roll out the dough.

Use sheets of wax paper to separate layers of cut dough. Refrigerate dough until ready to use. 
a. For a pie (see step 6), I flute the edges, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.
b. For individual tarts, I cut into 7-inch circles, place in the tart pans ( I used 4" springform pans, but 4" cheesecake pans with removable bottoms are better for quickly unmolding hot pans), dock the crust, cover and place in the fridge overnight (you can also wrap in foil and freeze for a few weeks (simply proceed with Step 8 or 9 from the frozen state). This dough patches very nicely, so I used scraps to fill in as needed.
c. For hand pies, I simply cut the rounds (sizes range from 4-1/4" to 6"), separate each with a square of wax paper, stack the rounds vertically on a plate, and refrigerate overnight. The next day, proceed with the recipe. For little to no waste, mash the dough scraps together, flatten into a disc, cover in plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes. Roll the dough again and cut additional rounds. Do not be concerned about overworking the dough... there's no gluten, so the dough will not toughen.
Note: I prefer to roll-out gluten-free pie dough between two layers of plastic wrap. I lay two overlapping sheets of plastic wrap on the work surface. I lightly dust it with sweet white rice flour, Mochiko. I also lightly dust both sides of the cold pastry dough with Mochiko. Place the plastic wrap that was used to wrap the dough and place on top. For a pie or tart, roll the dough to a circle about 1/8-inch thick, rotating the disc, by quarter turns, as you roll to maintain an even circle.

Just about anything can be used to cut the correct circumference. Use a spatula to avoid smudging the perimeter. Note: This dough was made with black chia seeds when lends a whole grain look. 
Mash the scraps together, flatten into a disc, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
Roll the dough again and cut as desired. There will be little to no waste.
6. Use the plastic wrap to help transfer the rolled dough to the pie plate. Slip your hand and forearm between the counter and the plastic wrap. Lift the dough and invert it into a 9-inch or 10-inch pie plate. Gently position the dough, then remove and discard the plastic wrap. Using a knife, trim the dough, leaving a 1-inch overlap. Fold the dough in half to create a double thickness along the rim of the pie plate. Push lightly along the outer edge, leaving room for the dough to shrink on the rim during baking. Pinch/crimp the dough along the rim to create a decorative edge. Because this is an all-butter crust, it must be very cold going into the oven, for it to maintain its shape during baking. At a minimum, refrigerate the prepared shell for 30 minutes and then freeze for an additional 30 minutes. Alternatively, chill overnight lightly covered with plastic wrap.
8. If a recipe calls for blind baking, preheat the oven to 375°F. Simply "dock" the crust, which means, using a fork, prick the crust along the bottom and sides. Line the crust with parchment paper or aluminum foil (shiny side down). Fill the plate with pie weights or dried beans** and bake the pastry for 20 minutes. Then remove the foil and weights and return the pastry to the oven and bake until it is dry, puffed and just turning golden, about 10 minutes. Set aside to cool. 
9. If a recipe calls for partially baking a bottom crust, preheat the oven to 375°F. Line the crust with parchment paper of aluminum foil (shiny side down). Fill the plate with pie weights or dried beans** and bake for the pastry for 10 minutes. Brush the crust with the blended white from 1 egg and and return the crust to the oven for 2 minutes more.
(**Note: once the dried beans have been baked they cannot be cooked in a recipe. I store the beans used as pie weighs in a marked container and reuse them as needed again and again.) 

If you are making a recipe where the crust is of visual importance to the final presentation, such as hand pies or free form crostatas, brush the uncooked dough with milk or egg wash before popping into the oven to encourage browning.


  1. What a wonderful post. I have not yet tackled gluten-free pie crust, but my normal pie crust is all-butter and I love it. I resolve to try this. Thanks so much for all the work the post entailed, Christina

  2. Oh this makes me so happy!! Your dough looks fabulous, I'm definitely trying your version next time with almond flour and baking powder. So golden and lovely! I was also curious whether psyllium husk and cream cheese would work in the dough, and can't thank you enough for testing those versions and posting the results. That apple pie is STUNNING! Have you posted the recipe?

    1. Hi Alanna… we love your blog "The Bojon Gourmet", and we simply drool over your amazing photos and recipes each week! The apple pie featured in the post is a recipe that I developed many years ago when I was working as a pastry chef at a small but exclusive hotel in Los Olivos, CA (more on that in an upcoming December post), but we published the recipe in 2010, which was our first year of blogging: http://www.salvationsisters.com/2010/11/best-all-american-apple-pie.html —Thanks so much for the share on your Facebook page!

  3. I love Bojon Gourmet, and I love your version of her pie too! The addition of almond meal is absolutely perfect :) I can't wait to try this out filled with the gorgeous summer fruit that is showing up at the farmers markets at the moment!


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